After years of discussions dating back to 2016, the Town of Creston is moving forward with construction on the new Creston Emergency Services Building (CESB).
On April 16, the town mailed a letter to residents with updated information on the project.
Project Costs and Funding
The total estimated costs for the project add up to $8.2 million.
In October 2018, a referendum was approved to borrow a maximum of $4.5 million. The rest of the funding will be sourced from town reserves and surplus of $1.14 million, accumulated funds for debt servicing of $311,000, gas tax of $243,000 a contribution from BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS) for $1 million, and COVID-19 Relief Grant funding of $1 million.
There have been concerns about the use of the COVID grant, with some residents believing the funding should have been used to support local businesses.
“The COVID-19 Relief Fund was provided to municipalities to offset COVID-19 related expenses or loss of revenue to not to pass on the costs to the taxpayers,” said Michael Moore, chief administrative officer.
“The funds cannot be used to be handed out to groups, businesses, or residents, but is only for the purposes of services provided by the municipality. Identified cost increases caused by COVID-19, including the Fire Hall, are eligible expenses.”
He added that the town has incurred costs directly related to COVID-19, including $150,000 in additional operational expenses.
So far, $1.15 million has been spent on the land acquisition of the Cook Street property (for $375,000) and the project’s design.
On March 23, council formally approved an increase in the construction budget from $5.4 million to $7 million.
Town officials say the adjustment is due to inflation and rising costs of building materials due to COVID-19, such as lumber and steel.
Prior to the pandemic, FireWise Consulting Ltd. associate Ernie Polsom said the cost of lumber for the project was estimated at $350,000. Now, the estimates have exceeded $1 million.
In order to reduce costs, the materials were changed from wood to prefabricated concrete, the building foot print was reduced, and a construction manager was hired to ensure each element of the project can be kept to lower costs.
According to town staff, the revised budget for the CESB will not cause a future increase in taxation to residents.
Opposition from Residents
At the town council meeting on April 13, the mayor and councillors fielded questions about the CESB from several concerned residents.
One resident, Steve Smith, said he didn’t agree with an increase in the budget.
“If you go over budget, then basically, you should scale back,” he said.
“Everybody here who is paying taxes is scaling back in any way they can due to prices on everything going up. I don’t think the town should have the luxury of increasing the budget.”
Another resident, Keith Goforth, said he believes the town should have been held off on the project until after the pandemic. He called the decision “irresponsible and reckless”.
In 2017, Goforth was involved with the Committee for an Affordable Fire Hall, which successfully led the defeat of a borrowing referendum for $6.1 million. At the time, a total of 60 per cent of Creston voters rejected the proposal.
Recently, he sent a letter out to the residents asking for support in voicing these concerns to council. He argues that the public was not consulted thoroughly on each step of the project’s development.
“When it comes to millions of dollars, decisions should not be done behind closed doors,” said Goforth.
“The public should’ve had the ability to ask questions during the meeting when spending was increased. This is a poor way to do democracy.”
For more information, contact the Town of Creston at 250-428-2214 or email@example.com. There is a copy of the architectural drawings available at Town Hall for viewing.
As of April 27, the site next to Pealow’s Independent Grocer has been fenced for work on utilities and civil construction. Construction on the new building is estimated to be complete in spring 2022.